The Royal Society opened their digital archives, reaching back to the very first volume –
“Giving some (account) of the present undertakings, studies, and labours of the INGENIOUS in many considerable parts of the WORLD.” I like this as a plain mission statement for a scientific journal, namely to describe what the (mad) scientists are up to. Of course, the first issues are
… very different from today’s journal, but in essence it served the same function; namely to inform the Fellows of the Society and other interested readers of the latest scientific discoveries. As such, Philosophical Transactions established the important principles of scientific priority and peer review, which have become the central foundations of scientific journals ever since.
(see http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/) Just a little correction: Since the first installment of the “Journal des Sçavans” appeared a few month before the Philosophical Transactions, it’s is the second (not the first, obviously) scientific journal ever to be published in europe. While the Journal des Sçavans changed focus towards literature after the french revolution, the Philosophical Transactions now is definitely the oldest and still one of the most influential scientific journals around. (You wouldn’t find that info on the english speaking part of wikipedia, mind you).
In the now publicly available archives, there are many jewels waiting to be found – here are a few to get started (thanks for hints to heise.de) :
– Isaac Newton (1671) “New Theory of Light and Color”
– James Clerk Maxwell (1865) “Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field”.